The Western Valley of Nova Scotia, Canada is a rural region of some 5600 km2 facing the challenges common to rural areas in the industrialized world: declining population, job losses in its primary industries, low average educational achievement and a high unemployment rate. Yet when polled, residents had strong positive feelings about their community and believed that it would become a substantially better place to live and work over the next several years. Believing that this attitude was a resource not to be wasted, the Western Valley government began a series of initiatives to help the community recover and grow in the modern economy.
A Community Fiber Network
The Western Valley had little hope of attracting private-sector telcos to deploy a network for its small, dispersed population. To combat this problem, the local government created its own Valley Community Fibre Network in 2008. Since its establishment, the Valley Community Fibre Network has laid 186km of fiber connecting multiple towns, municipalities and universities in the region. Western Valley also has dark fiber services available for businesses, public-sector enterprises and local and national carriers as of 2017. The new fiber infrastructure provides connectivity for roughly one-third of the region that previously had no reliable Internet infrastructure.
Digital Skills Training for All
Beginning in the late 1990s, Western Valley has worked to educate all its citizens, from youth to seniors, in digital skills. The Nova Scotia Community Access Program (NSCAP) offers free digital training programs at over 200 sites throughout the province. NSCAP provides programs on a wide variety of topics, including training and support for mobile devices, 3D printing labs, workshops and competitions and small-business technology training. It also features robotics clubs for youth and digital skills internships.
In addition to the NSCAP-provided programs, Western Valley has established the Student Summer Skills Initiative (SKILL). The program connects students with local non-profit organizations to help them gain work experience and provide them opportunities to work within their local communities. Non-profits receive wage-assistance incentives to hire SKILL students, ensuring that as many organizations and students as possible can participate in the program.
Producing Renewable Energy through Waste Cleanup
In 2012, the Western Valley government partnered with local businesses in the mink industry to introduce an anaerobic digester. The digester converts mink industry waste as well as municipal bio waste into methane gas and manure. The gas is burned onsite to generate electricity, which is then returned to the grid to help supplement Western Valley’s electrical costs. Use of the anaerobic digester also helps capture and contain greenhouse gases produced by local industry.
In a traditional rural economy, the Western Valley government has planted the seeds for major change in how local cultures and economies interconnect with the rest of Canada and the world, to their mutual benefit.
Waterloo is the smallest, geographically speaking, of seven cities that make up Canada's Technology Triangle. Small in size it may be, but this second-time Top Seven honoree casts a big shadow in terms of technology-based growth. The Triangle itself is home to 334 technology companies and another 404 providing related services that employ about 10% of the labor force, but account for 45% of job growth.
Among the seven communities, Waterloo is home to 40% of the high-tech firms. Its recent history illustrates the power of getting a few critical things right and then working together to nurture and manage the resulting success over time.
The community's first and perhaps most important "right thing" took place at the University of Waterloo. The University was founded in 1957 by two businessmen, Gerald Hagey and Ira Needles, who saw an opportunity to create a high-level technical institution to train local business leaders. In the 1970s, the University established an intellectual property policy that was unheard of in its day. The policy allowed students and faculty members to own rights in intellectual property they developed at the University.
The University's timing was excellent. When the introduction of the personal computer began a decades-long wave of ICT growth, Waterloo was positioned to benefit. Like Stanford University in Silicon Valley, it spurred spin-outs of technology-based businesses, and local entrepreneurs began to build clusters of companies working on the most exciting technologies of the day. Fast-forward a few decades and the Waterloo region is a place where investors have poured C$1.8 billion (US$1.5bn) over the past 10 years into acquiring privately-held technology companies. It is also the home of companies that, over the past eight years, made up 10% of successful IPOs on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Publicly-held technology companies in the Waterloo region have generated a 26% internal rate of return since 1994, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and the original investors in firms that were acquired or went public have received more than a seven-fold return on their investments. Waterloo's leading technology companies today include Research in Motion (RIM, creator of the BlackBerry), Sybase, Open Text, DALSA and Descartes Systems Group.
Today, the University offers the world's largest post-secondary co-op program serving over 11,000 students. It operates more than 50 research institutes, 12 Federal and Provincial Centers of Excellence, is a partner with the city, region and nonprofits in developing a Research & Technology Park. But it does not stand alone. Wilfrid Laurier University is home to one of Canada's largest business schools as well as the Schlegel Center for Entrepreneurship, while the Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning has earned a #1 ranking from the Province of Ontario for eight straight years.
Engaging Business, Citizens and Government
The community's second "right thing" was a local government that has engaged actively with business and citizens in planning for a prosperous future. A Strategic Resource Information Plan developed in 1990 set the pattern for data-sharing and integration among agencies and pointed the way toward the 1998 introduction of the award-winning, Internet-based Waterloo Information Network. Today, Waterloo offers a wide range of online services, from the minutes of council meetings and city program registration to tax assessment tools, interactive GIS maps and marriage license registration.
In 2000, the city undertook a year-long project called Imagine!Waterloo. This city-wide public consultation aimed to determine the best possible future for the city. Its recommendations ranged from environmental protection to transportation, culture to city communications. An Intelligent Waterloo Steering Committee formed in 2006 - led by Jim Balsilie, co-founder of RIM, Waterloo's Mayor and University of Waterloo President David Johnston - stages events to educate business leaders, academics and citizens about the challenges Waterloo faces and engage them in setting goals for educational achievement, access to services, investment in infrastructure and social inclusion.
Collaboration and Reinvestment
The third "right thing" in Waterloo is a culture of collaboration and reinvestment. Perhaps because cooperation among business, academia and government has been so successful, folks in Waterloo make partnership a priority and are eager to give back to the community. Waterloo-based Tech Capital Partners manages C$95 million in venture capital for early-stage companies, while a group of business leaders has recently launched Infusion Angels to find and fund ideas from University of Waterloo students and alumni. UW and Wilfrid Laurier jointly run a Launchpad $50K Venture Creation Competition for students, researchers and community members who develop business plans and start successful businesses. Successful entrepreneurs have also reached into their pockets to fund or contributed their time to the founding of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Institute for Quantum Computing, Center for Wireless Communications, the Waterloo Technology StartUp Network, and Communitech, a capacity-building association focusing on technology in the region. Each fall, the Waterloo region celebrates Entrepreneur Week, North America's largest innovation festival.
Sharing the wealth extends as well to people for whom technology is more a challenge than opportunity. Like other Canadian communities, Waterloo participates in the Federal Community Access Program that places Internet workstations in public access locations. Waterloo's public libraries have become ICT learning centers that, thanks to company donations, lend laptops as well as books. Through Wilfred Laurier's Center for Community Service-Learning, nearly 1,000 students a year engage with 200 local partner organizations in programs that connect community service to classroom learning. Business and nonprofit organizations have joined forces to create the Waterloo Region Immigrant Employment network to help match recent immigrants to job opportunities, while the Waterloo Public Library has developed an online portal, ProjectNOW, to provide settlement and labor information to newcomers.
With 76% of businesses and 47% of households on broadband, and 75% of adults using the Internet, Waterloo is already a broadband economy success story. The challenge the community has set itself is to sustain and accelerate its success in a global economy that competes harder for investment, talent and ideas with each passing year.
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Waterloo was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Brain Gain.
Labor Force: 55,551
Intelligent Community of the Year 2007
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With its record low unemployment and a rapid rate of growth, Vancouver is enjoying good fortune all around. Its technology industry, especially small businesses, are outpacing the number of workers available. A new private-sector based broadband wireless initiative will support a comprehensive technology plan and its website won a “Best e-Government” award from the UN which will help the community absorb the activity surrounding its hosting of the 2010 Olympic Games.
Toronto has both the assets and the liabilities that come with being Canada’s largest city. On the asset side is its diverse economy, with key clusters in finance, media, ICT and film production, and success as a magnet for immigrants that have made it one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Major carriers offer high-quality broadband to 100% of residents, and its five major universities and multiple colleges have attracted 400,000 students and helped ensure that Toronto has more residents with undergraduate degrees that London.
Improving the Urban Experience
On the liability side are the highest cost of living in Canada and transportation gridlock that gives residents of the Greater Toronto Area the world’s longest average commute times. These factors have contributed to the success of suburbs in attracting new and existing businesses, making once-sleepy cities like Mississauga into business hubs in their own right. To reverse this trend, Toronto is doubling down on the value of a dense, superbly equipped and culturally rich urban experience. The centerpiece is Waterfront Toronto, North America’s largest urban renewal project, which is revitalizing 800 hectares of brownfield shoreline with 40,000 residential units, parks and one million square meters of commercial space designed to the highest environmental standards. Offering 1 Gbps fiber-based broadband– provided at no cost to the 10% of housing set aside for low-income residents – the Waterfront is expected to offer a home to 40,000 new jobs focused on knowledge industries. Early commercial tenants include the Corus Entertainment and the George Brown College Health Sciences campus.
Future on the Waterfront
Though impressive in size and scale, the Waterfront is only the most visible of many public-private collaborations through which the city is pursuing an ICT-powered future. The MaRS Discovery District supplies housing, incubation, acceleration and investment services to hundreds of early stage portfolio companies downtown, while the Ryerson University Digital Media Zone gives entrepreneurs space and services to move great ideas to initial commercial success. The Centre for Social Innovation does the same for social innovators and its successful model has led to operations across four locations in two countries. Toronto’s libraries offer computers and training to tens of thousands, while outreach programs equip families with inexpensive IT, connectivity and training. With C$2 billion planned for transportation investment over the next 25 years, Toronto is preparing the physical, human and digital infrastructure for continued success.
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Toronto was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Brain Gain.
Labor Force: 1,423,270
Intelligent Community of the Year 2014
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Surrey is a city in transition from a suburban past to a sustainable urban future. On this road, it seeks to leave behind a reputation for sprawl, crime and limited economic potential. Home to some of the richest and poorest neighborhoods in the region, Surrey is building an innovation-based knowledge economy offering a much broader range of local opportunity.
There is no lack of potential in Surrey: it is Canada’s third fastest-growing city, which welcomes 1,000 new residents each month and where residential construction is a major industry. It is part of the growing metropolitan area of Vancouver, from which it derives most of its economic energy today. To gain greater control over its destiny, Surrey has developed a diversification strategy calling for deepening the partnership between its institutions of higher learning and local business. Development is focused on an Innovation Boulevard project, where the city, universities and business are building clusters in health technology, clean tech and advanced manufacturing. Overseeing the project is the Mayor’s Health Technology Working Group, comprised of 50 representatives from universities, a health authority, nonprofits, business associations, government and developers. Ten new health technology firms have already moved in, attracted in part by the availability of five new advanced laboratory spaces. It is one component of a master plan to create several dense and walkable city centers supporting a mix of residential and commercial space linked by light rail.
Smart and Sustainable Plans
Surrey’s past was enabled by the automobile. A new Sustainability Compact, developed with substantial public consultation, aims to change that dynamic by focusing on emissions reduction and thoughtful adaptation to climate change. The city has achieved a 70% waste diversion target ahead of schedule and completed a district energy system for city buildings and future high-rise residential towers. A range of smart-city systems, from a central traffic management center to the MySurrey App, are improving livability and better engaging with citizens. And for those on the wrong side of the digital divide, the library system is training thousands of residents in digital skills as part of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. Surrey’s goal is to boost local employment by nearly 50%, which will keep more wealth in the community and better balance the tax burden between residents and business.
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Developed advanced portal for the delivery of community services.
At the turn of the new century, Stratford had a reputation for being quaint, cultured and out of the way, home to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and a 90-minute drive from Toronto, the business capital of eastern Canada. The Festival is a home-grown success story in cultural tourism. Founded in 1953, it became the largest employer in the city and generated hundreds of millions of dollars in local economic activity in ticket sales, restaurants, lodging and culture.
This economic center complemented Stratford's industrial base, which supplied the North American automotive and aerospace sectors. But in the last Nineties, the city's forward-looking leadership saw that the growth opportunities of the future would depend on information and communications technology.
A Network for the Shakespeare Festival
Since then, a team led by Mayor Dan Mathieson has executed on an Intelligent Community strategy with great intensity. The city-owned utility has built out a 70-km open access fiber network with a WiFi overlay, and signed sales agreements with commercial carriers to deliver triple-play and mobile services. The network enabled the Festival to significantly expand its online marketing, and plays a key role in the city’s tourism strategy, which builds on the Festival’s reputation to attract “foodies,” cyclists and other target groups throughout the year. At the same time, the city has used the network to slash its own telecom costs and power a smart meter program.
Digital Media Campus
After nearly a decade of planning and development, Stratford succeeded in establishing a satellite campus of the University of Waterloo that leverages the presence of an outstanding source of content: the Shakespeare Festival.
The school launched with a Masters program in digital media, which is structured to end with internships that lead to employment. It attracts students from arts, engineering and business, deliberately mixing them on interdisciplinary teams that forces them to understand other points of view and to collaborate on projects. They have access to production facilities, digital editing suites and a large number of project rooms for highly experiential programs.
The school followed with an undergraduate program, which admitted 93 students from 400 applications in its first year. The program mixes art, business and technology instruction, with the goal of taking students passionate about and art and teaching them business and technology, while exposing business students to the art and technology of digital media. Bundled into the program is project management instruction, so that students emerge with a professional certification in project management.
Creating a Home for Innovation
Having established an institution to produce digital media professionals, Stratford went on to create a home for innovators. Housed in an historic building downtown, the Stratford Accelerator opened its doors in 2012 with seven clients. It offers housing and advisory services to early-stage tech companies from concept through commercialization. It is an outgrowth of the Waterloo Accelerator Center, which has served 100 companies, of which 50 have graduated and half have stayed in the region, generating an estimated C$80m in revenue. Supporting the companies are five in-house mentors and an entrepreneur-in-residence, who advise on finance, marketing, product development, manufacturing and other fields, as well as helping companies set milestones and execute against them. In addition to long-term relationships with start-ups, the accelerator offers a 3-month program called Pathfinder, that is designed for people with an idea they want to explore but who are not yet ready to devote full time to it.
With each addition to Stratford’s ecosystem, the city’s attractiveness to innovators has increased. The economic development team has successfully sold Stratford as a test bed for technology projects – a city large enough to give new technologies a meaningful test but easy to operate in due to its small size. Toshiba, Cisco, BlackBerry, Inter-Op and Clemson University all have pilots running in Stratford. These international brand names lend validation to a strategy that has proven its value to the city.
The near-death of the North American auto industry pushed unemployment in Stratford to 7.9% as the city lost 1,600 mostly low-skilled jobs in manufacturing. But the city also gained hundreds of new jobs requiring ICT skills, and has recently seen the revival of automotive create a labor shortage for the higher-skilled manufacturing jobs it retains. For an economy in transition, these trends are a serious validation that it is on the right track.
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A city with two distinct economies, Sherbrooke is pursuing a development strategy to create a future of opportunity for all of its people and institutions. Like many successful cities in North America, the city experienced the worst of industrial decline in the Seventies through the Nineties. Despite the success of local businesses including Bombardier Recreational Products and Cascade, its economy was founded on low-cost, low-skilled labor that was ill-equipped to compete in the rising digital age. Local culture actually viewed entrepreneurs as people generating profits at the expense of workers, which would prove a further obstacle to economic growth.
Redefining the Soul of a City
At the same time, however, Sherbrooke boasts remarkable educational assets. Eight institutions educate 47,000 students and employ 11,000 workers, together constituting 34% of the population. Beginning in 2007, the city set out to exploit the potential of those assets to revitalize the local economy. Three hundred local stakeholders attended the Sherbrooke Summit, which began to redefine the city as a center for innovation. Three organizations were created: Commerce Sherbrooke for retail and service industries, Destination Sherbrooke for tourism and Sherbrooke Innopole to drive the development of clusters in advanced manufacturing, clean tech, life science, nanotech and ICT. A similar cross-sector collaboration, the Intelligent Community Roundtable, focused on improving city services and citizen engagement using ICT.
Together, the groups attacked the obstacles standing in the way of a better future for the city. At the high-tech end of the spectrum, the university developed a low-volume fabrication and packaging facility where semiconductor firms could prove new designs. The city launched start-up weekends and hackathons to give its young ICT talent a compelling reason to stay in Sherbrooke. Other programs trained businesses in using ICT to improve productivity, develop intellectual property strategies and step up their rate of innovation. The city discovered that a low percentage of its retail businesses were online and created training and education programs to boost Web engagement. Broadband access is not an obstacle – the city is well-served by private-sector carriers and saw a fiber-to-the-premise network begin deployment in 2014.
Results in Numbers
Collaboration and hard work on multiple fronts is producing results. The clean tech cluster grew 5% in the number of companies (to 100) and 10% in employment (to 3,000) in 2013. In the same year, the number of IT companies grew 8% to 96 and IT employment grew 6% to 1,600. More growth is in the pipeline as a new committee of community leader mulls a long-term strategy vision for a city on the move.
Most of the world celebrated the start of the new century in 2000, but it was a time for mourning in Saint John.
A shipbuilding contract from the Canadian government came to an end and a major food manufacturer closed its plant in the same year. A long period of industrial decline had suddenly reached crisis point.
Despite being home to New Brunswick's telephone company, NBTel, and a branch of the University of New Brunswick (UNB), Saint John developed some of the poorest neighborhoods in the province. But while it had Canada's largest per capita decline in manufacturing from 1989 to 2003, it also saw 8% growth in services, double the Canadian average.
To accelerate that positive trend, the city created a partnership with education, health care, provincial government, cultural institutions and business. It targeted ICT, life sciences, tourism, energy and advanced manufacturing for growth. Its timing was good: a local cable TV company (owned by a local entrepreneur) had just launched a competitive battle with NBTel that accelerated broadband deployment. In a strategy called True Growth, the city engaged with local employers and educators to identify and recruit skilled young people emerging from secondary school and university. It also recruited skilled immigrants and launched a mentorship program to connect immigrant entrepreneurs with business executives.
UNB did its part by partnering with a major employer to create an Executive MBA program for working executives. Meanwhile, a group of local entrepreneurs and angel investors formed PropellICT, a technology incubator with a difference. PropellICT focused on mentorship instead of office space, pairing entrepreneurs with senior business executives. In its first 3 years, PropellICT nurtured 21 start-ups, of which Radian6 became its most successful and best known, and went on to host the region's first angel investor conferences.
Meanwhile, local executives formed the Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative, which attacked the root causes of multi-generation poverty, from helping new mothers properly nurture their children to tutoring students and intervening with at-risk teens. As it entered the second decade of the new century, Saint John found itself with much to celebrate and much more to do.
Labor Force: 35,615
The first decade of the 21st Century was a good one in Quebec City. Home to the Quebec provincial government as well as thriving technology, research and creative sectors, the city region achieved one of the highest GDP growth rates in Canada (+24%) while unemployment fell from 9% in 2000 to 4.9% in 2013 and 73,000 jobs were created. Economic success was the product of business-government-university collaboration that stretched back into the Nineties, including a 1997 high-tech business summit leading to creation of a downtown tech district, a 1998 economic diversification strategy, and the birth, in 2003, of a regional economic development agency. Progress received a push forward from the 2002 amalgamation of 12 municipalities into an expanded City. Today, seven industries – including life sciences, ICT, value-added materials, transportation equipment, financial services, energy and tourism – generate 44% of the region’s $325bn in GDP.
Building a Skilled Labor Force
In the century’s second decade, Quebec City is challenged to head off growing labor shortages in these fields and to boost the rate of commercialization of the innovations emerging from public and private R&D spending. It has also targeted the digital divide that affects almost one in five residents. To build its skilled labor force, Quebec City and financial partners are investing over $4 million in such initiatives as “It’s Cool to Stay in School,” which encourages students to finish high school and explore science and technology careers. Young people are exposed to companies, workshops, internships and mentoring to motivate their involvement in the digital economy. The Quebec International agency provides online marketing to potential immigrants and programs that facilitate their application for residency and integration into the economy.
City government supports technology entrepreneurship with scholarship programs, a public-private crowdfunding initiative, and innovation events that involve startups and organizations in tackling business and public-sector problems. The city is also the recipient of a Smarter Cities Challenge grant from IBM that aims to reduce the “digital divide population” by 4% through 2016. Meanwhile, the nonprofit ZAP Quebec continues to expand a city-wide set of 500 WiFi hotspots that complement the 98% broadband availability provided by the private sector. With this range of programs, Quebec City hopes to ensure that its story of growth continues into the next decade.
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Quebec City was featured in the Intelligent Community Forum book Seizing Our Destiny.
Smart21 2011 | 2012 | 2014